DENVER, May 11, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Governor Polis and Minna Castillo Cohen, director of the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF), recognized five foster families from across Colorado for their dedication to Colorado's children and teens in foster care. In addition to playing a critical role by providing safe, stable homes for Colorado's children, each family is sharing their story to inspire others to help address the statewide need for foster families. Friends and family as well as community leaders and county representatives attended a private luncheon at the Governor's Mansion to recognize each family's contributions.
"Each of the families we celebrated today have one thing in common," said Governor Jared Polis. "They saw the need to support children and families in their communities and they stepped forward to meet that need. I am so appreciative of their dedication to Colorado's kids. When individuals and families work together, we can build a Colorado that sets all kids up for success."
Foster parents provide a safe, temporary home for children whose parents need time to address safety concerns. County human services agencies, child placement agencies and community partners across the state are collaborating to recruit additional foster parents so children can remain in their communities while they are temporarily living with a foster family. There is a particular need for foster parents who are willing to care for children with complex behavioral and mental health needs, sibling groups and children whose first language is not English.
In most situations, children are able to continue living at home with their parents or caregivers while local human service agencies provide support and resources. Of the 20,817 children and teens served by county human services agencies throughout Colorado last year, 68 percent were able to continue living at home while their parents learned new skills and addressed safety concerns.
However, sometimes it is not possible for county human services agencies to ensure the safety of a child in their own home while connecting parents and caregivers with support and services. Each day in Colorado, approximately 12 children and teens enter foster care. There are currently 4,621 children and teens in an out-of-home placement such as a foster family, group home or residential treatment center.
"When children and families need additional support, county human service agencies work to meet those needs while keeping families together," said Castillo Cohen. "If that is not possible, we first look for kin – those adults who have an established, trusted relationship with the child – and then a foster family to provide safety. Kinship and foster families do so much more than keep kids safe – they champion reunification and connections with a child's family, they support a young person's own treatment needs, and they create an accepting environment where young people can grow and flourish."
In Colorado, 1,451 children or teens are growing up with a kinship family, and approximately 2,159 children and teens are growing up with a foster family.
An additional 666 children or teens are growing up in a congregate setting, such as a residential treatment center or group home. Many of these young people are ready to be with kin or a foster family, where they are better able to heal from their past traumatic experiences, but no family is available to care for them.
Colorado welcomes and encourages every adult to consider becoming a foster parent. Foster parents can be:
Single, married or in a committed relationship
All races and ethnicities
All sexual orientations, gender identities or gender expressions
Homeowners or renters
An experienced parent or a first-time parent
Older or young (minimum 21 years old)
We all play a role in strengthening families. To learn how you can become a foster parent in Colorado, visit CO4Kids.org.
The families honored at the luncheon are:
Tom and Teresa Bever, Fort Collins - certified by Larimer County Tom and Teresa are like many Colorado families – they love to stay active outside. After marrying five years ago, the couple decided they wanted to make a difference for kids in their community so they became foster parents. Now, Tom, Teresa and her three sons from a previous relationship spend their weekends skiing and mountain biking with the children for whom they provide a temporary safe home. "Seeing young people learn a new skill, face a fear or try something they've never done before is one of the best parts of fostering," shared Teresa. Although it's fun, Tom and Teresa know it's temporary. They try to develop a co-parenting relationship with the children's biological parents to support reunification and stability for the young people in their home.
Wendy Bryner, Fort Collins - certified by Lutheran Family Services Wendy has been a foster parent in Fort Collins for more than 11 years. She began caring for teen girls who were planning to emancipate. For the past three years she has been involved in the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, providing a family for young people who need sanctuary, safety and stability. Wendy's professional experience in social work and treatment has helped her care for youth in foster care. However, it's her support system that has kept her going. She shares the joys – and occasional lows - of foster parenting with her three daughters and her partner.
Mike and Ramona Evans, Denver - certified by Nightlight Christian Adoptions After their five kids left for college, Mike and Ramona gave up their home in the suburbs to move to one of Denver's trendy neighborhoods. A few years later, these empty nesters decided they had more to give. Their faith called them to become foster parents. They are currently caring for a teenage girl who they plan to adopt. Raising kids in the city is different than in the suburbs, but one thing remains constant – the need for stability, safety and parents who nurture a child's innate talents.
Melody Frey, Grand Junction - certified by Whimspire After overcoming challenges of her own during her teen years, Melody knew she wanted to do the same for teens. Rather than wait for a partner or the "right time," Melody jumped right in to foster parenting on her own. Not only does she accept teens for who they are, she affirms and celebrates each of their unique identities. Her home is a safe space for teens to deal with their past experiences, learn how to cope and move forward and to enjoy being kids. She is currently fostering two teens, one who will reunify with their biological family soon and another who Melody plans to adopt.
Morgan Norling and Whitney Wehrkamp, Colorado Springs - certified by Griffith Centers for Children, Chins Up Morgan and Whitney knew they wanted a family, but they weren't sure how they would go about it. They decided to become foster parents because it gives them a path toward growing their family and the opportunity to help children and families in their community. Working together as a team, they have been able to balance therapy appointments, visitations, trauma-related behaviors and doctor appointments for many children – at one point caring for seven children all younger than five.